2021 marks the 65th anniversary of the demolition of the ‘Big House’. Bowood was one of 250 country houses of architectural importance demolished in the two decades following the end of World War II, the majority of which faced the bulldozers in the 1950s. In 1955, at the height of the demolitions, one country house was obliterated every five days. Despite very few objections at the time, the widespread destruction has led commentators to make comparisons with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This exhibition will consider which factors forced the 8th Marquis of Lansdowne, and so many of his contemporaries, to sacrifice their family seats.
In 1972, the 8th Marquis retired to his beloved Scottish estate, Meikleour, leaving his son, Lord Shelburne, to make the best of a near bankrupt estate. Lord Shelburne (the present 9th Marquis of Lansdowne) strove forward with energy and enthusiasm to create one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country. Bowood recently welcomed its 5-millionth visitor. Lord Lansdowne understood that to survive he had to diversify. He moved away from farming, opening a championship golf course, conference centre and, in 2009, a hotel and spa.
What proved to be a difficult decision for the 8th Marquis of Lansdowne led to the remarkable renaissance of Bowood under the guardianship of the 9th Marquis. However, threats to Bowood, and to all country house estates open to the public, continue to this day and there is no room for complacency.